Let’s talk about sneakers! An Eco Fashion Interview with Damian Augustyniak from We are Wado

Last year, I bought a new pair of eco sneakers and was part of the backers for WADO. I was satisfied with the information they gave me on Kickstarter, and I received my pair of sneakers not long after the end of the crowdfunding. I liked the sneaker from day one and had no issues with them – I am still wearing them. So, I got a bit confused reading several negative comments on Social Media about delivery problems and faulty products and even parts of my Green Blogger Community were skeptical. A slight smell of greenwashing was in the room talking about WADO. This in mind, I wanted to talk with WADO. So, I wrote an email to Marta Llaquet Pujol from the company. She oversees press related topics. Soon, I had the chance to ask all my questions to Damian Augustyniak, Co-Founder and COO at We Are Wado.

Alf: Who is designing the WADO sneakers in Barcelona? 

Damian: We designed the first Modelo ’89 in house. I took the lead along with my both partners. Now we are developing a new model whit the help of our new team member Javi, who oversees the product design process.

Alf: Where are your „European Ethical Factories“ you mentioned on the website? How have you found them? What is „ethical“ about them?

Damian: I leave you a link where the whole story is told. If you need more info let me know please.

Alf: From whom do you purchase the leather for the sneakers? Are they chromium-free?

Damian: We buy the leather from our Portuguese supplier. They get the leather mainly from European cows (Spain and Portugal). Depending on the demand, there is a little chance that they need to buy leather from America as well. In this new production, we will be launching improvements on our basic Modelo ’89, introducing more recycled and organic fabrics, however we have stopped using Chromium-free leather because of the performance.  We had a lot of problems during production and some people really got annoyed because of the quality of the leather. It broke easily sometimes and that made us change our mind. Leather tanned with chromium is far more durable.

“Working with chromium free leather has certain positive and also negative effects.”

Damian Augustyniak

Alf: Are you aware of the problems with chromium in the leather production? Especially for the workers and their health (related to findings about cases of lung cancer, allergies, asthma etc.)? Is this in any kind a problem for you?

Damian: We are informed about the health problems that Chromium leather tanning can cause. But we also know that this kind of diseases are generally spread in tanneries where the safety conditions are poor and where the machinery used is not so developed. I ‘ve been to our tannery in Portugal, Marsipel S.A., which has a Leather Working Group certificate, and we understand that working with chromium free leather has certain positive effects, although others are very negative, as I explained.

Alf: Are you considering developing a vegan sneaker like VEJA did in the last couple of years?

Damian: The sad reality is that there are very little “no-fuel-based” materials available on the market for the uppershoe that simulates leather. This now called “vegan” materials are mainly synthetics and microfibers generally made of plastic and are not biodegradable, so definitely it is not a solution for the environment neither. In any case, and answering your question: Yes, during the last month we started developing a synthetic microfiber for the upper, where there is recycled material involved, enough to get the Global Recycled Standard certification. If everything goes as planned, we could be changing leather for this material soon, all helped by one of our Spanish suppliers that is fully involved in the project.  

Alf: Where did you get the rubber from? Is it ecological produced?

Damian: Our outsole is a mix between 30 % natural Rubber and 70 % synthetic rubber. When we started Wado we thought that would be good enough as this mix allows maximum durability, according to our outsole factory.  Using only natural rubber meant production problems as it is a too flexible material to work with. Apart from that natural rubber outsoles are more slippery and they wear out more easily too. However, we wanted to go further and we found a more sustainable outsole factory. So now we are developing a new model where the outsole is made from almost 70% recycled rubber.

Alf: Are you combining the 70 % rubber then with 30 % natural rubber?

Damian: Yes, we are mixing natural and synthetic rubber.

Alf: Your Reforestation project is impressive. How did you come up with these projects in India and Zambia?

Damian: We came up with the idea of planting trees at the beginning of the project. We didn’t know much about shoes and eco-materials; however, we knew we wanted to help the environment somehow. So, we started to look for partners and we found WeForest. It is an NGO that not only helps us to plant the trees but creates a good working environment for the communities in the locations they work in. I leave you this link where we explain a lot about the project.

“I will not stop using leather to use plastic as others do and claim I’m suddenly a superb vegan brand.”

Damian Augustyniak

Alf: I am reading a lot of critical comments in Social Media about your sneakers beneath official postings of Kickstarter etc. How do you deal with that?

Damian: We are still taking our first steps as a company and we are trying to learn as much as we can from the critics on Social Media. Our main enemy right now seems to be the vegan community, which I truly respect. However, we need to reflect on whether veganism in terms of food industry (which I support) can be measured in the same way as veganism in terms of shoe industry.

It is clear to me that everyone should be reducing it’s meet consumption, I’m doing it myself with my vegetarian partner since 3 years ago, but we can not fool ourselves. We need to think deeper and analise if using anything that is not leather and changing it for fuel based materials is more sustainable.

Being honest, I don’t want to stop using leather to use „plastic“ as others do and claim I’m suddenly a „superb vegan brand“ just to follow the trend. If I change the leather which works perfectly well right now, is because I found an environmentally better solution.

Thanks, Damian, for your personal perspective.

Dear community, what are your thoughts about these Green Fashion issues a lot of brands are tackled with transforming? Leave your comment underneath.

Fotos: René Zieger

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